Texas has a lot of navigable waterways and a lot of boats navigating them: more than 580,000 boats are registered in the state. And accidents happen when there are that many opportunities. In fact, there are several things about boating that set the stage for accidents: high speed on motorboats, very different kinds of boats sharing the water, a tendency for alcohol or drugs to play a role in people’s recreation, exposure to heat and sun for prolonged periods that can exhaust operators, considerable noise that makes it hard to hear other boats or warnings.
Despite an array of boating safety requirements and rules for operating boats, many people are injured and a smaller number killed while trying to enjoy themselves on the water. The many different ways that accidents can occur and the many different people whose actions may contribute to the accident can make claims for compensation for boating injuries quite complicated.
Texas Boating Laws
Texas has extensive boating safety regulations in the Water Safety Act. The law specifies the safety equipment (flotation devices, lights, distress signals, etc.) that is required for each type of boat: motor boats, sailboats, and boats that are “manually propelled.” In addition, the requirements of the United States Coast Guard Inland Rules are in effect while boating in waters to which those rules apply. Regulations also govern the operation of boats, including speed, water skiing, operation around other boats, swimmers, etc.
Texas laws include mandatory boater education before being allowed to operate most boats, and a requirement that children under 13 wear life jackets at all times when on smaller boats that are underway.
Boating Accident Reports and Information Exchange
The state’s Water Safety Act specifies what the operator of a boat that has been involved in an accident must do:
- Help others to rescue them and minimize any further danger, to the extent that doesn’t expose his own crew, passengers and vessel to “serious danger”
- Provide his name and address, as well as the identification of his vessel, in writing, to anyone injured or who owns property damaged in the accident
The law also requires that an accident report be filed within 30 days for any incident that involves death or injury, but specifies that the reports not be used as evidence in court.
Kinds of Boating Accidents
Almost all boating accidents involve one of the following scenarios:
- Collision between two boats; both may be at fault, but liability may be affected by the nature of the boats (sailboats, for example, may be deemed less at fault than a motorboat in a collision between the two)
- A boat hitting the wake of another boat (most cases involve passengers being thrown about; extreme cases may cause an overturn)
- A boat hitting a natural wave (the consequences are similar to hitting a wake, but larger waves may swamp the boat)
- A boat striking objects on or, more often, under the water (including rocks and land)
In all these types of accidents, liability for causing the accident frequently depends on how careful and how alert the operator was. Speeding makes an accident more likely, as does inattention while operating the boat. Simple things like eating, talking, listening to music and, of course, drinking, make it much harder for the operator to spot imminent problems.
Fatal Boating Accidents
Statistically, fatalities from boating accidents involve:
- The victim falling overboard, while not wearing a life jacket
- From an open motorboat
- Operated by a person between 26 and 50 years of age
- On a weekend between the hours of noon and 7 p.m.
The Role of Alcohol
Alcohol is estimated to play a role in half of all boat accidents. Texas boating regulations allow the arrest of any boat operator who appears to be impaired or who is determined to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. The intoxicated operators face jail time, fines and the loss of license to operate boats.
The importance of the “BWI” charge to accident victims is that intoxication at the time of the accident can help establish that the operator was legally at fault.
Get Legal Help with Your Texas Boating Accident Claim
The ability to recover compensation for injuries invariably depends on the many specific facts of each accident. However, accidents of the same type—boat collisions, wake disturbances, etc.—have enough similarities that experienced boat accident attorneys know what evidence to examine, which questions to ask and which safety regulations may come into play in order to really nail down what happened.
If you have questions about a boating accident, the Austin accident attorneys at the law firm of Briggle & Polan, PLLC have the experience to answer them. If you have a case for compensation, we will handle it from initial investigation to settlement or, if necessary, a court verdict. Whether its determining the speed a boat was traveling at the time of impact, or tracking down the operator of a boat who let the scene, the attorneys at Briggle & Polan do what the case requires in order to get you the compensation you deserve.
Call us today to schedule a complimentary consultation and learn about your legal rights. 512-472-1926